References for Employment

References for EmploymentAlthough much more is written about effective resumes and interviewing, written or oral statements about an individual’s suitability for a position, commonly referred to as references, should not be underestimated as tools in the job search process. In fact, references may well tip the scale in favor of an applicant in a job interview or in the making of a job offer. Consequently, selecting and preparing individuals to provide references should be done with the same care and attention to detail given to other aspects of the job search process.

The first consideration is to choose individuals who can provide the most appropriate references for the job being sought. References might be personal, professional, or academic. Effective references are provided by individuals who know the applicant well, who can be specific about the applicant’s skills, personal qualities, experience, and career goals, and who will respond with enthusiasm. Thought should also be given to selecting references who are credible because of their professions or personal reputations and who are effective communicators.

After developing the list of possible references, it is critical to determine each individual’s willingness to serve as a reference and then to prepare the individuals to provide helpful, accurate information. The applicant should supply each with a current resume. When a potential position is identified, a description of the job should be forwarded to the individuals selected as the most appropriate references for that particular position. It serves the applicant well to inform the references about why this job is of interest and why the applicant is a strong candidate. Employers are typically interested in knowing about an applicant’s interpersonal and teamwork skills, leadership qualities, quantity and quality of work output, as well as the ability to perform particular tasks associated with the job. The applicant should remind the references of examples of achievements corresponding to areas of importance to the employer.

Some employers request that an applicant submit letters of reference with the application. However, more typically, the employer will ask for a list of references, some of whom will be contacted by telephone. Consequently, the applicant must supply accurate information about how to contact each reference. The reference list, tailored to the particular job being sought, may be appended to the resume accompanying the application letter or provided at the interview. It is helpful to categorize and annotate the references. For example, a professional reference may be annotated as follows: “Colleague on a team redesigning company payroll system, 2003-2004.” If an employer requires completion of an application form, references can be copied onto the form. It is critical that the applicant notify the reference at the time his or her name is provided to a potential employer.

If employed and seeking a new position, an applicant may need to request deferral of contact with the current employer until a job offer has been made, perhaps contingent on a satisfactory reference from the current employer. The applicant should stay in touch with references during the job search. If some references are contacted by telephone, the questions asked can be good feedback to the applicant. All references should be notified and thanked on completion of the job search.

See also:


  1. Kennedy, J. L. 2000. Job Interviews for Dummies, 2nd ed. New York: Hungry Minds.
  2. Lucht, J. 2004. Rites of Passage at $100,000 to $1 Million+. New York: Viceroy Press.
  3. Stafford, D. and Moritza, D. 2004. Pp. 219-236 in 1000 Best Job Hunting Secrets. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks.